View Full Version : Scars

09-03-2010, 12:43 AM
The wound had healed up nicely, Eiryss had to admit: the healers of Ios knew their craft well. Looking down at her abdomen, under the surface of the steaming water, she could barely see the pale scar tissue from her wound. Not for the first time, she reflected on the wisdom of actually wearing armor: though her chainmail slowed her down, one lucky strike was all it took to end a life. Goreshade had taught her that, if nothing else.

She rose from the bath, water streaming off her body, and took down the towel from its peg, wrapping it around her body. She walked to the mirror on the west wall of the bathroom, stood staring for a long time into its polished steel depths. The face that looked back at her, under short cropped black hair, was drawn, pale, and tired. She was shocked, for a moment, at the grim look in her own eyes.

There was a gentle cough as someone cleared their throat behind her. She moved swiftly, picking up one of her daggers from where it rested on her nightstand, and turned to face the interloper, holding the towel with her other hand. Stern dark eyes looked back into hers: it was an older, male elf, his head shaved clean, the lower part of his face covered by the long scarves he wore. He looked down at her from his perch on the windowsill, uncaring of her unclothed state. "A towel is an ineffective weapon," Narn said. "A second dagger would serve better."

"You are a filthy old man, Teacher," Eiryss sneered. "Climbing into a woman's bath at this hour."

Any other elf might have risen to her bait. Narn simply turned away from her, one hand resting on the window frame. "The roof," he said. "Get dressed first, and meet me there. Come armed." He vanished with a flurry of cloth into the night.

Twenty minutes later, Eiryss was standing on the roof of the polished marble structure, her damp hair chilled by the night breeze, armed for war. The older elf stood at the edge of the roof, his back turned, the faint evening wind catching his long, grey-green robes. His arms were crossed as he looked up into the night sky, at the stars twinkling high above them. "It has been a long time," he said, in that low, gravelly voice she remembered so well. "Show me what you have learned."

She'd raised the crossbow to her shoulder and fired before he'd finished speaking, but the bolt still caught nothing but air, arcing through the night to land somewhere in the forest far beyond. She had little time to worry about where it might have landed: Narn had crossed the distance between them in the blink of an eye, his paired swords drawn and flashing. Eiryss ducked his first strike, parried the second with her crossbow bayonet, and drew her own saber from its back sheath in her preferred reverse-grip. She lashed out with the long, steel blade, was parried by Narn's crossed swords, and then his foot connected with her stomach, and she tumbled off the roof backwards.

Eiryss thought she screamed as she fell, dropping her crossbow and grabbing wildly at the edge of the roof. Her fingers caught the railing, breaking her momentum, then she slammed into the side of the building, knocking the wind from her lungs. She skidded down the sloped stone face for a moment, then managed to kick off as she approached the ground, breaking her fall with a smooth, practiced roll. A quick glance revealed her crossbow, laying some distance away: she ran and scooped it up, dropping to one knee as she opened her hip quiver and drew a bolt from the leather bag. Her hands instinctively worked to reload the crossbow: pull, lock, load, aim, but by the time that she managed to load her weapon, Narn was already swooping down like a hawk on the wing, sliding down the side of the tower with one hand resting on the polished stone to slow his descent.

She picked her spot, waiting until he'd landed to fire, hoping that the force of his landing would knock him off balance just enough to get a clean shot. It almost killed her. Only a sudden glint of moonlight on polished steel warned her to drop to the ground before the thrown sword spun through the space where her neck had been a moment before. By the time she got back to firing position, Narn was rushing towards her, remaining blade held behind him and to one side. She pulled the trigger, managed to clip a corner of his cloak before he closed the distance. Not good enough. The older elf kicked hard, and her crossbow was knocked out of her hands and sent skidding away.

She scooped up her saber from where she'd left it laying at her feet, and swung wildly at the other Mage Hunter with her blade. There was the sudden sharp ringing of steel on steel. Narn parried her strike easily and riposted with a vicious lash towards her face. She ducked, let the sword pass by, countered with a pommel strike to the face. Narn blocked the attack with his free hand. The knife-edge hand strike connected with her wrist with a solid, meaty sound, and she winced as her sword fell from her nerveless fingers.

She had one chance. Eiryss ducked her shoulder and leaped with all her strength, slamming into the older elf full force. She tried to slam her elbow into his solar plexus, but caught nothing but the hardened leather armor he wore under his flowing robes. It was enough, however, to knock him off his feet and onto his back. She drew her dagger from its back sheath and swung down, hard.

Her blade stopped a bare fraction of an inch from Narn's throat. The older elf lay splayed out on his back on the ground, just looking up into her eyes, his expression cold and angry. No. Not angry. Disappointed. Though he could have parried the strike easily, he had not moved a muscle to defend himself.

She sat down hard, breathing heavily, her face flushed with exertion and fury. "You held back," she said, accusingly.

"You are wounded," Narn replied curtly. "It would have been unfair."

"My wounds are healed, old man," Eiryss snapped. "They have been for a long time."

Narn got to his feet slowly, sheathing his sword. He reached out a hard, calloused hand, and touched Eiryss twice: once over her heart, and again, on her forehead. "You are wounded," he repeated, slowly.

Hot tears welled up in the younger Mage Hunter's eyes. She turned her face away, blinking hard. "I failed to protect Nyssor from the traitor," she said, her voice tinged with bitterness and self-hatred. "I allowed myself to be defeated, and with my own sword too. I'm only alive because that. . . that bastard wanted me alive, to tell you what he had done. I failed in my mission. I failed the goddess, I failed our people. . . and I failed you, my teacher."

If Narn heard her words, he gave no indication of it. He simply got to his feet, walked towards his fallen sword, and picked it up. With a single, smooth motion, he sheathed the remaining blade and tossed his robes over his shoulder. "Retrieve your tools and follow me," he said, sternly.

"Goddess, old man, you always were a cold-hearted bastard," Eiryss snarled.

Narn did not reply. Feeling angry and ashamed, she sheathed her sword and slung her crossbow back into place. The older elf quickly leaped into the branch of a low tree and swung himself on top of one of the garden walls before running off towards the Western Gate.

Eiryss followed. It was one of the old games that Narn had played with her when he first took her under his wing: "Try to follow." The rules were simple: he would run across the rooftops and treetops, taking the hardest route possible. She would try to mimic what he had done, and try not to kill herself in the process. Even after all these years, he was still better, his leaps just a little stronger, his timing just a little better.

Somewhere in that pell-mell dash across the rooftops, her tears stopped flowing. There was no time for tears, not in the mad dash across the polished stone, not when a single moment of distraction could result in a fatal flaw. The wind felt cool on her face, and she realized that her cheeks were dry. The wind had tried the tears from her face, left her feeling clean, refreshed, renewed.

She saw the glow before they reached the wall: the fires of many thousands of man camped outside the city walls illuminating the western sky in a false dawn. On the wall, a young Dawnguard Invictor leaned on his sword cannon and looked out at the western horizon, watching for signs of danger. He never noticed the two Mage Hunters as they silently climbed the guard tower behind him and perched, like two gargoyles, at the edge of the tower roof.

Narn wordlessly pointed to the tableau below. There were tens of thousands of soldiers gathered at the base of the walls: Dawnguard in their gleaming white plate armor, Mage Hunters huddled around their campfires, pulling their grey-green cloaks tightly around them, Battle Mages and Arcanists putting the finishing touches on the massive Myrmidons gathered in serried ranks at the edge of the camp. Despite herself, Eiryss found herself taken aback by the sheer scale of the force gathered below. For the first time in many years, the Nation of Ios was gathering for war.

All because of what she had seen. . . and what she had done.

The two of them looked down at the scene in silence for a long while. Then Narn stood and wrapped his cloak a little tighter around himself, against the evening chill. "Tomorrow," he said, "You go back. You continue your mission. You find out what you can. You report back to us. The work continues."

Eiryss nodded silently in reply. "Of all my students," she heard her teacher say. "You are the best. I am proud, very proud of what you have accomplished. No teacher could ever ask for more."

He was gone before she could reply, vanishing into the night. She did not bother to follow. Instead, she stayed on the rooftop and watched her people prepare for war, until the first rays of dawn illuminated the sky behind her, driving back the darkness with the morning light.